I was scrolling through Twitter when I stumbled upon a trip down memory lane. Bullseye, a favourite of mine in the 1980s TV show category, was mentioned by a nice gent by the name of David Hill. Hill’s reason for recalling the show (and legendary host Jim Bowen) was due to the way it was an expression of working class identity, specifically the depiction of solidarity with those suffering from the horrors of unemployment (thanks, Thatcher). It made me think about what exactly there is for working class identity to coalesce around today.
Now before I travel down this rabbit hole, I should probably first set out the position of bias from which I approach this. I will freely admit that any claim to myself being working class is somewhat difficult to make, having lived in rural North Yorkshire for seven years and being relatively fortunate to find myself in the position that I am now in.
But on the other hand, I am well aware of how difficult it was, and still is, for my forebears. My grandmother has never had anything more than a minimum wage job, living in a council house her entire life, and I’m the first Hare in a thousand generations to reach university. Before I moved to the South (relative term) at the age of 11, the downtrodden backdrop of Teesside was all I had ever known. So while I cannot lay claim to being properly working class, I can make a better fist of empathising with someone in a jobcentre queue than a member of the liberal metropolitan elite – e.g. the current Labour leadership.
Returning to the original train of thought, the issue now is that working class identity has been systematically undermined by the events of the last 40 years. The closure of traditional industries such as coal and steel has resulted in hollowed out communities, bereft of anything to unify themselves around – and therefore to use as pillars to support their cultural identity. Not only have many areas of the country been cleansed of productive economic activity, it feels at times as if they have been cleansed of their spirit as well.
For evidence of this, look no further than the backlash against immigration in many deprived areas since the turn of the century. Communities which had for generations grounded themselves in principles of equality and solidarity now seem to be turning inwards upon themselves, distrusting a group of people who are equally as marginalised as themselves. To the untrained eye, it can look simply like brazen prejudice and racism. But placed in the cultural context, it should not be so surprising.
In the turbulent economic times of the 1980s, these communities held themselves together against the savagery of the state through their collective identity and the beliefs inherent within it. The economic decline that followed sucked away the pride in that identity, and therefore when new arrivals came to these shores in the early 2000s following the EU’s eastern enlargement, with much to – rightly be proud about, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a perceived threat provoked a visceral reaction.
Yet just as that did occur, it need not be that it continues to be that way. The challenge is finding a way to help working class communities restore their pride in where they live. That in itself is a whole, much longer article, but greater investment in deprived areas, more power for local people and better representation of working class people in key positions would all be good ways to start. After all, restoring lost pride would top even the best prize anyone could ever have won on Bullseye.